Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Youths' Perspectives on the Reasons Underlying School Truancy and Opportunities to Improve School Attendance

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Youths' Perspectives on the Reasons Underlying School Truancy and Opportunities to Improve School Attendance

Article excerpt

School truancy, defined as any intentional unauthorized or illegal absence from school, is a significant problem in the United States. Truancy contributes to the related problem of chronic absenteeism, which refers to students missing 10% or more of a given school year, including authorized and unauthorized absences (NCCP, 2008). A recent study estimated that nationally, 11% of adolescents between the age of 12 and 17 skipped class in the past 30 days (Vaughn et al., 2013). High absenteeism has garnered increased attention from a variety of stakeholders, including the California Attorney General who has defined reducing truancy, and thereby chronic absenteeism, as a priority (Harris, 2013).

Previous research suggests that truancy is a complex phenomenon. Kearney's (2008a) interdisciplinary model of school absenteeism - based on a synthesis of research studies - describes six proximal and distal factors related to truancy and chronic absenteeism, including characteristics and circumstances related to the child, parents, family, peers, school, and community. Other studies have also identified associations between truancy and home environments, social relationships, school variables (e.g., student-to-teacher ratio, educational style, safety and disciplinary procedures) and individual characteristics such as students' level of engagement with learning (Freudenber & Reglis, 2007; Tyler & Lofstrom, 2009).

Previous studies examining the determinants of school truancy have primarily utilized quantitative methods (Kearney, 2008b) and have therefore lacked an explicit focus on understanding youths' perspectives and lived experiences, for example, the combinations of factors that contribute to youths' decisions to skip class, youths' emotional reactions to truancy interventions, or how truancy patterns changed over time. What qualitative work has been conducted to date provides important perspectives on the central role of relationships with teachers, school climate, peer relationships, and school/community partnerships in promoting school attendance (Attwood & Croll; 2006; Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morrison, 2006; MacDonald & Marsh, 2004; Rodriguez & Conchas 2009; Ventura & Miller, 2005). Unfortunately, the majority of this work has been conducted in the context of a specific program evaluation or outside of the United States. Qualitative perspectives from underserved youth of color in the United States, who are at disproportionate risk of not graduating from high school, are particularly limited.

A better understanding of youths' perspectives could help contribute to the development of effective truancy-reduction strategies. As shown in a recent systematic review, despite the decades of work to better understand the causes of school truancy, relatively little is known about how to effectively reduce it (Maynard et al., 2013). Unfortunately, many truancyreduction interventions have been designed without explicit input or feedback from the target population and few qualitative studies of truancy or related behaviors (e.g., drop out) have combined efforts to understand youths' experiences and elicit opportunities for system improvement (Bridgeland, Dilulio, & Morrison, 2006). A more in-depth understanding of youths' perspectives on system functioning and target areas for intervention could inform program and policy implementation.

To help address these gaps in the literature, this project sought to explore the experiences and perspectives of youths with a history of school truancy in Los Angeles County (LAC). This work was guided by three research questions:

1) what factors contribute to youths' decisions to skip classes or ditch full days of school over time?

2) how do youths who skip or ditch perceive the school's and other's (e.g., family, legal system) response to truancy? and,

3) what recommendations do youths have for reducing truancy?

Since we strove to use youths' experiences and input to inform intervention strategy development, we focused our inquiry on what youths perceived as modifiable contributors and intervention points to address truancy. …

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